destinations, travel tips

Secrets to Getting the True New York City Experience

File:Times Square, New York City (HDR).jpgWikimedia

New York City vacations are amazing experiences. But why have the same experience as everyone else? Don’t let your vacation be a carbon copy of someone else’s. Take the time to plan out a unique vacation that will make you feel like a real New Yorker.

 

Research its secret attractions

When people plan a visit to New York City, they usually place some pretty predictable things on their itinerary. They plan to go to the top of the Empire State Building (or the Rockefeller Building so they can see the Empire State). They put a visit to Liberty Island or Ellis Island on the list. They’ll write down “walk along Brooklyn Bridge” and “stroll through Central Park”.

Now, I’m not saying that you should avoid all of those things. After all, most New Yorkers have themselves done these things several times. And, having done them all myself, I can attest to the fact that they are awesome experiences. But if you want to really get into the city, then you should take a look at some of its more secret attractions. Put some of those on your to-do list instead!

Rent a place for your vacation

When people start booking vacations, they usually look immediately to hotel rooms. After all, hotels are one of the best things about a vacation, right? They’re one of the things that really let you break away from your everyday reality.

But if you want to feel like a true New Yorker, you should get a taste of what it’s like to actually live there. And that means renting a place out during your stay. This gives you town own space, away from other hotel guests. It also gives you your own kitchen, which will give you a chance to cook your own meals! Have a search for your vacation rentals in New York City.

NYC Subway R160A 9237 on the E.jpg

Wikipedia

Ride the subway wherever you go

Strange but true: a lot of people see taking a cab everywhere they go on vacation as a natural part of the vacation. It’s considered a “treat” to themselves; being driven around privately to whatever destination they need to get to.

It’s nice, for sure. But not only is it expensive; you’re also missing out on one of the quintessential New York City experiences. When you’re riding on the city’s subway system – the Metro – you get to experience so much of what makes the city unique. All you have to do is search for “New York City subway” on YouTube to see what I’m talking about. Loads of unique characters come to the subway to do various performances pieces. Trust me: people-watching on the Metro is a fascinating experience!

Wikipedia

Visit some comedy clubs

One of the best things to do in New York City is to check out its underground comedy scene. These performances tend to be grittier and more down-to-Earth than that of the bigger names you can see at Madison Square Garden. These comedy clubs are a great way to meet people if you’re feeling in a social mood.

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Well, reading this collab post certainly makes me want to go back to New York City- it’s been over nine years since I went on a class trip there! I hope you’ve enjoyed the last couple of collaborative posts… I’ll be back later this week with some new content!

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Hair, photography

Bad Hair Day on Holiday

While traveling, I usually don’t care a whole lot about what my hair looks like. I’m often wearing a hat anyway, or can slip on my Tubie (my Buff knockoff) at any given point. In fact, I don’t think much about my hair at all… until I take a look at my pictures.

Niagara Falls 2014 205

This was was taken on the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, right between the United States and Canada. So I had crazy hair in two countries at once! The wind was really strong over the gorge that day, and simply would not allow me to get a good selfie.

In fact, the wind caused my hair in this photo to be so crazy-looking, I decided to enter it into a contest. I read the newsletter of my favorite author, Melody Carlson, and she has a contest nearly every month. To celebrate the release of her new book about a hairstylist, she had a bad hair day contest. As of now, you can see my picture and story along with several of her other favorites (many of whom were too embarrassed to even include a photo!) by clicking here.

I’m not sure how long until that link changes, so here’s what I wrote in my contest entry:

When I went to Niagara Falls this past summer, I wanted a good picture of myself with one foot in Canada, one foot in the United States, and the falls in the background. But the wind picked up and my hair just wouldn’t cooperate!

But that is certainly not my only travel hair horror story. There was the time I was at a drive-thru safari in Amish country. While taking a selfie in front of the giraffes, one of them decided to eat my hair!

DSCF6237

What’s something funny that has happened to your hair while traveling?

#ThrowbackThursday, Bucket List

Travel I Can Cross Off My Bucket List

Yesterday, I posted my current Travel Bucket List. However, while I’m looking forward to hopefully accomplishing all those things in the future, I think it’s important to also look back on previous accomplishments. While I don’t plan every single trip around my goals, once I have a trip planned, I try to take advantage of any opportunities available to apply that trip to working towards a goal. I often accomplish several goals in one trip, which is why you’ll see that I have often done several goals at the same time. Here are some things that are no longer on my bucket list, because I actually did them!

1. Go to Chicago. (September 2014)

2. Eat pizza in Chicago. (September 2014)

3. Go up the Willis Tower and stand on the Skydeck. (September 2014- Okay, I’m done with the Chicago goals!)

On the Willis Tower Skydeck...before eating pizza...in Chicago.
On the Willis Tower Skydeck…before eating pizza…in Chicago.

4. Live away from the Pacific states. (August 2011)

5. Visit Amish Country. (October 2013 in Holmes County, plus two other trips within the following year)

6. Go to the Creation Museum. (March 2014)

Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem
Hanging out in the ark room of the Creation Musuem

7. Vacation in Hawaii. (April 2001, Oahu)

8. Go to Walt Disney World. (May 1999, plus three more times, all in May during my birthday!)

9. Bike around a major city. (May 2014, Columbus)

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

10. Be in two places at once a la A Walk to Remember. (March 2013, Nebraska/Iowa, also internationally in July 2014 at New York/Ontario)

11. Visit a different country. (December 2005, Mexico; July 2007 in Peru was the first time I stayed the night inside the country)

12. Visit a different continent. (July 2007 and August 2009, Peru, South America)

Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru
Playing with kids at the Posada de Amor orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru

13. Visit Canada. (July 2014, Niagara Falls)

14. Go on a mission trip. (July 2007, Posada de Amor in Peru, plus several other trips after)

15. Go to Seattle. (March 2004 was my first trip)

16. Go to Nashville. (September/October 2012)

In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville
In front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

17. Go to Niagara Falls. (July 2014)

18. Take an overnight train trip. (December 2011, from Nebraska to Oregon)

19. Go on a cruise. (December 2005, California and Baja)

20. Support overseas orphans. (Not including Latin American mission trips, I’ve sponsored Nelly in Zambia since 2013.)

Nelly, the teenager I sponsor through Every Orphan’s Hope

21. Fly first class. (January 2013, from Denver to Omaha)

22. See Mount Rushmore. (August 2011)

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
Mount Rushmore in South Dakota

23. Be in the nation’s Capitol. (June 2007 in Washington DC, also in Peru’s capitol of Lima in July 2007 and August 2009)

24. Go to New York, New York. (June 2007)

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On a class trip to the East Coast

25. See historic Philadelphia. (June 2007)

26. Travel out-of-state without my parents. (March 2003 to Washington, and many, many, many trips since!)

27. Travel by myself. (This one’s ambiguous: in 2001 I flew by myself but was picked up by family at my destination, in August 2011 I moved to Nebraska for an internship, in September 2012 I went to Tennessee for two weeks but one week was spent with a friend, in August 2013 I took a solo road trip to get to Ohio for my new job… if none of the previous count to you has having traveled by myself, then I definitely took several trips over the past year that would certainly count!)

In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska
In the airport at the beginning of my move to Nebraska

28. Drive more than an hour. (First time was February 2013 from Twin City area in Minnesota to somewhere in Iowa)

29. Drive the entire way on a road trip. (First time was August 2013 from Fremont, NE to Marengo, OH)

30. See a Great Lake. (First saw Lake Erie November 2013, within the next several months also saw Ontario and Michigan)

Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago
Walking alongside Lake Michigan in Chicago

31. See the Atlantic Ocean. (June 2007)

32. Go to Colorado, but not just inside an airport. (October 2011, Estes Park, visited twice later on)

33. Buy a car (August 2012, bought a y2k red Ford Explorer, sadly sold August 2014)

My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)
My SUV Dora (named so because she was an Explorer)

34. Go to Yellowstone National Park to watch Old Faithful, see large wild animals, and stand on the Continental Divide. (July-ish 2002?)

35. Take a tethered balloon ride. (July 2010)

36. Sleep (inside a car) in a Walmart parking lot. (September 2013)

37. See Multnomah Falls. (September 2014)

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls in Northern Oregon

38. Go on an extended whitewater rafting trip. (May 2011, Rogue River)

39. Take a trip with only carry-on luggage. (September/October 2011, Tennessee, and nearly every trip ever since!)

40. Ride the Greyhound. (July 2014, and again in August/September 2014)

Good Ol' Greyhound
Good Ol’ Greyhound

41. Go waterskiing/wakeboarding. (July 2004 was my first waterski attempt, July 2006 proved more successful and was also my wakeboard introduction)

42. Sleep all night in a hammock. (July 2012, at the top of a 60-foot tower overlooking the Platte River)

43. Stay in a hostel. (September 2012, Music City Hostel in Nashville; hostels are now my favorite accommodation!)

44. Attend a Christian music festival. (September 2011, Lifelight South Dakota)

Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert
Among over 10,000 fans at a Lifelight concert

45. See The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. (June 2007)

46. Visit the three main countries that make up North America. (Started at birth in the U.S., ended in Canada July 2014)

47. Hike from base to summit of a mountain. (The tallest so far was Harney Peak in South Dakota August 2011, but was preceded by Mount Humbug and both Table Rocks in Oregon)

This building is at the very top of Harney's Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there
This building is at the very top of Harney’s Peak and it was a strenuous four-mile journey to get there

48. Ride a roller coaster that goes upside-down. (May 2003, Disney’s Rock n Roller Coaster, and of course with visits to more “adventurous” theme parks like Six Flags Marine World, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Adventureland, I’ve been on dozens more)

49. Be invited to a movie screening before it comes to theaters. (July 2011 for Courageous; I’ve also gone to Grace Unplugged, Moms’ Night Out, and When the Game Stands Tall)

50. Become a travel writer (started professionally writing November 2008!)

So there you have it: my top 50 travel accomplishments! I’m looking forward to adding more to this list!

saving money, travel tips

7 Budget-Friendly Activities for Traveling Anywhere

I don’t believe that you have to be rich to travel. In fact, as long as you’re not in debt, there’s a trip out there that can fit your budget perfectly. Whether you’re headed around the world or simply to the next town over, here are a few ways you can get the most out of your travel experience- and still stick with your budget!

Eat Ice Cream

Twist O' The Mist in Niagara Falls, NY has been one of my favorite ice cream shops!
Twist O’ The Mist in Niagara Falls, NY has been one of my favorite ice cream shops!

I’ve visited (and once even lived in) several towns with triple-digit populations. There isn’t much in these places, but there’s usually an ice cream shop. Ask for a scoop of the most unique flavor on the menu, and you’ll be reminded of your visit whenever you taste, smell, or even hear that flavor. If you’re visiting an area that has several options for ice cream, pick a place that serves flavors from a local creamery. Sure, a small cone at an ice cream stand may cost more than a whole tub at the grocery store, but these few dollars won’t break anyone’s budget.

Visit a Church

One of the best churches I've ever been to- The River in Delaware, Ohio is held in a converted barn!
One of the best churches I’ve ever been to- The River in Delaware, Ohio is held in a converted barn!

If you want to meet locals, experience culture, and look at unique art and architecture for free, then head to a church near your destination. Churches are found throughout the world, even in places where it’s illegal, so you’re likely to find several churches within a short radius. Because this is part of your travel experience, don’t be bound by denomination or feel like you have to agree with everything the church believes. I’ve used travel as a way to experience Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and Catholic churches for the first time. Some churches have a historic significance to the area they serve, and may even be open during non-service times for visitors to see what makes the building unique.

Take a Walk

Walking can bring many unexpected surprises, like this large, walk-able map of Tennessee in Nashville!
Walking can bring many unexpected surprises, like this large, walk-able map of Tennessee in Nashville!

Not only is walking free, but it can actually save you money if you use it in place of buses, taxis, or car rentals. You can experience a lot more of the area by walking. While I remember taking some long walks on family vacations, my first trip with extensive walking was in Nashville. It was there that I went to RCA Studio B, where Elvis first recorded. I didn’t intend to go there, it just happened to be one of the many fascinating places I ended up stopping at while on my way somewhere else. Besides, walking ensures that you can enjoy all that ice cream you’ll sample, guilt-free.

Go On a Bike Ride

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

Some areas are not pedestrian-friendly, either because of a lack of sidewalks or because all the places you want to visit are a few miles apart from each other. In that case, I recommend seeing the area on two wheels. If you cannot bring your own bike to your destination, many hostels and other travel-related businesses can rent a bike to you (with a lock and sometimes a helmet) for a daily fee. Bicycles are the best of both worlds: you’ll be able to notice most of the unique things you would if you were walking, but you can also travel faster and for further distances. While staying at a hostel in Canada, I met a fellow traveler who came from Japan to ride a bike from Los Angeles to New York City, with lots of side-trips along the way. Imagine all that he must have seen!

Photograph Everything

The best part of Chicago's Cloudgate "Bean" is taking tacky mirror selfies to a whole new level!
The best part of Chicago’s Cloudgate “Bean” is taking tacky mirror selfies to a whole new level!

Getting a durable, quality camera may come with an upfront cost, but it is certainly worth all of the memories you’ll be able to capture. Naturally you’ll want to take pictures of the sights you see and the people you share it with, but you can also spend some time and actually get creative with the photograph. If you take a picture of a famous place, it will look the same as the millions of other photographs that other people took of the same place. However, can you incorporate your own unique flair? I once read a traveling shoe ambassador’s blog that put a face on a flip-flop and took pictures of it in several countries and states. If you take a fun spin with a photo, be sure to share it with me!

Go To Unique Sites

Touring Boys Town in the heart of Omaha, NE was a great experience made even better by seeing the World's Largest Ball of Stamps!
Touring Boys Town in the heart of Omaha, NE was a great experience made even better by seeing the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps!

When traveling, you probably pick your destinations based on what you can see there. Of course you’ll want to visit what your destination is known for, but also keep an eye out for unique, little-known sites and attractions. People go to South Dakota’s Black Hills to see Mount Rushmore, but only a portion of these people stop at the wacky Wall-Drug on the way there. Find out about roadside stops that can enrich your travel experience at places like RoadsideAmerica.com. You can also follow road signs to any interesting-sounding attractions or, better still, ask the locals for their inside information.

Chat Up People

Two minutes before this picture was taken in Fremont, NE, I did not know this girl. But she was bold an encouraged me to dress up for the retreat's photo booth with her!
Two minutes before this picture was taken in Fremont, NE, I did not know this girl. But she was bold an encouraged me to dress up for the retreat’s photo booth with her!

Okay, I have to admit that I’m not naturally inclined to walk up to random strangers and start a conversation. But I do appreciate it when another (non-creepy) traveler comes up to me to talk. Being a native English speaker, I have had the privilege of helping people from all over the world practice their foreign language skills simply by chatting with them! While I had the luxury of speaking my own language, I have been able to hear all kinds of interesting first-person stories, and have also picked up a few tips for my travels. If you want to meet new people on your travels but aren’t very outgoing, try staying in hostels, riding the bus or train, or simply standing in a long line for a tourist attraction, and eventually someone will start talking to you!

What are some ways that YOU make the most of your adventure while spending little money?

resources, travel tips, writing

I Now Write Travel Guides!

24 hours ago, I never expected I’d write travel guides. But here I am, 24 hours later, and I have two guides published!

Just last night I found out about a website called Buggl. It is a resource to look up all kinds of travel guides. You can search by location or by type of activity. Each guide varies in price (depending on how much the author charges), but they all include an online version and a downloadable, printable PDF book.

I decided right away that I wanted to create a travel guide of my own, so I signed up. While some of the features were kind of annoying to work with, overall it was fairly easy to put together a guidebook. With a late night last night, I finally finished this:

A Non-Mushy Week in Niagara Falls

Because I have the freedom to write about anywhere I want from whatever perspective I want, I decided it might be fun to write a book about how you can visit Niagara Falls, the ultimate honeymoon destination, when you don’t want any romantic ideas whatsoever. Of course, I think this guide would still be useful to couples who wanted to visit, but because I went solo on this trip, I wanted to let others know that they can enjoy this place by themselves, too! Furthermore, I wanted people to know that Niagara Falls is so much more than an afternoon stop! This guide explains in detail how you can enjoy seven action-packed days! In it, I give little-known secrets, information on how to prepare for this excursion, and more. I wrote all the words and took all the background pictures featured in this guide! Click here to download A Non-Mushy Week in Niagara Falls for only $1.25!

After publishing this book, I tried to get some sleep, but I woke up early this morning because my mind was buzzing with ideas. I immediately wrote down a few ideas I had for other guidebooks, and after I got ready for the day I sat down and wrote another one!

A Weekend at the Creation Museum Travel Guide

I was inspired to write this one because I visited the Creation Museum last March, and was surprised to learn that while all tickets are valid for two days, many people only spend a couple hours there! That’s not nearly enough time to experience all that the Creation Museum has to offer! Based on my experience, I made this guide to better utilize the two-day ticket and enjoy a whole weekend in and around the Creation Museum. This includes where to stay, where to eat, and what to do after-hours. Click here to download A Weekend at the Creation Museum for only 99 cents!

If these two guides go over well, I plan to write many more. If you are interested in visiting Niagara Falls and/or the Creation Museum, I truly believe that these books will be a helpful resource to you! If you are interested in some other place, let me know. If I’ve been there, I’ll create a guidebook customized for you!

Thanks for reading, both my Buggl travel guides and right here on my blog. Let me know what you think!

backpack, destinations, tour

U.S. vs Canada: Who Has the Better Niagara Falls?

As much as I’ve traveled across the United States, I never seemed to make it to Canada. I had been to New York, but never set foot out of the Big Apple while there. This summer, I took an eight-day trip to Niagara Falls. This means I had the opportunity to see the other side of New York State, as well as finally enter Canada. And since I visited both sides of this international city, people often ask me “Which side is better?”

Now, when it comes to travel, I don’t play favorites. I sometimes say that because I’m not a mother, my trips are like my children, therefore it would be wrong to choose a favorite. And really, I enjoyed both countries very much, but for different reasons. Here are a few highlights from each side:

Transportation:

US: You can take a trolley around Niagara Falls State Park, which is a lot of fun and very inexpensive. Unfortunately, public transportation around the rest of the city isn’t so great.

CA: While there’s nothing fun like a trolley, you can buy a WeGo pass and ride any bus with the WeGo logo. It goes anywhere in town that a tourist would want to visit.

Sights:

US: You can get up-close and personal with the falls. There are spots where you can be about five feet away from the top of the falls. (Naturally there’s railing to keep you a safe distance.)

CA: There’s only one waterfall that spans from the US to Canada, but because you’re not so close, Canada is the best place for viewing the falls and taking scenic pictures.

Attractions:

US: My favorite attraction was Cave of the Winds, where you can walk a deck at the base of Bridal Veil falls and get drenched. Other attractions include the Gorge Discovery Center, Aquarium of Niagara, and the Observation Tower, all of which are packaged in the Discovery Pass. The most famous attraction is the Maid of the Mist boat tour.

CA: My favorite attraction was Journey Behind the Falls, where you literally walk in an underground tunnel where you can see the underside of Horseshoe Falls. Another attraction included on the Adventure Pass is an amazing theater experience called Niagara’s Fury. Canada has an identical tour to Maid of the Mist, but it is called the Hornblower Niagara Cruise.

Down the River:

US: The Gorge Trail system offers miles of paths along the Niagara all the way to Lewiston. I experienced it as a combination of hiking and biking, using a bike I rented from Gorge View. This takes you through three state parks, Niagara Falls (of course), Whirlpool (which is the best place to view the large Niagara whirlpool), and Devil’s Hole (aptly named because of the hundreds of torturous steps, but has a great view of the power plant). If you drive, you can go to Fort Niagara, which is a historic base where the Niagara drains into Lake Ontario.

CA: While you could walk downriver by foot on the sidewalks, the WeGo buses can take you all the way to Queenston Heights, with hop-on-hop-off stops at interesting places such as gift shops, aviaries, and a large floral clock by the power plant. The White Water Walk takes you on a long deck as close to the Whirlpool Rapids as is legal (there is also an Aerocar that takes passengers above the Whirlpool for an outrageous extra fee). This side also has a beautiful site where the Niagara connects with the Great Lake, and you can get there by paying an extra fee for a special WeGo bus.

City Life: 

US: This is the side where you’ll experience the most nature. Wooded forests, walkable islands, and dirt paths are hard to find on the other side of the Niagara. It also seems to be the quieter town, if you go a few blocks away from the park, there are only houses, restaurants, hotels, and one casino. If you’ve never had Indian food before, this is the place to try it. Authentic Indian restaurants are practically on every corner.

CA: This side has a lot more tourist flair. Clifton Hills is a Disney-Vegas mashup filled with quirky museums, flashy tourist traps, and casinos. There are elegant (AKA expensive!) restaurants that beautifully frame views of the falls, most notably the Seattle Space Needle’s twin, Skylon Tower. While the nature aspect is lacking, more tourists mean more shops and services are offered here.

Hostels:

US: I stayed at Gorge View Hostel, which is the closest hostel to Niagara Falls. My favorite aspects were that is was across the street from the aquarium, the bedrooms were spacious and comfortable, and the owner let guests go on the roof to watch fireworks.

CA: I stayed at Niagara Backpackers Hostel in the bed-and-breakfast community, so everything was pretty upscale and historic-looking. I enjoyed this family-run accommodation, and the free breakfast was delicious!

Names and Number of Falls:

US: There are three waterfalls: American, Bridal Veil, and Horseshoe. The American Falls span between mainland New York and Luna Island. From Luna Island to Goat Island is Bridal Veil Falls. Then from Goat Island (still part of New York) to Canada is the Horseshoe Falls.

CA: There are two waterfalls. The American Falls is the collective name for the waterfalls on the US side. Of course the largest waterfall is still a horseshoe, but it is referred to here as the CANADIAN Horseshoe Falls! I just found it funny that each side has different interpretations of what the falls are!

As long as you have a passport, I encourage you to visit both sides of Niagara Falls to get the full experience. After all, perhaps the best part of Niagara Falls is walking across the Rainbow Bridge, where you have one foot in each country! 

Note: This post was made possible in part by two hostels on opposite sides of the Niagara! Gorge View in the States, and Backpacker’s Hostel in Canada.